Howie Roseman

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Eagles need to invest in a RB

Andrew Porter
January 16, 2019 - 12:34 pm
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The Philadelphia Eagles do not like investing draft capital in the running back position, but that has to change this Spring. 

The last time the Eagles drafted a running back in the first round was Keith Byars in 1986 and over their last 74 draft picks, they have selected just six running backs total, none before round four. 

Related: Carson Wentz speaks for first time since injury​

Here's a look at the running backs drafted by Philadelphia since the 2010, the year after they selected LeSean McCoy in round two: 

  • 2017 - Donnel Pumphrey (round 4)
  • 2016 - Wendell Smallwood (round 5)
  • 2012 - Bryce Brown (round 7)
  • 2011 - Dion Lewis (round 5)
  • 2011 - Stanley Havili (round 7)
  • 2010 - Charles Scott (round 6)

The NFL has changed and so should the Eagles' running back draft philosophy. 

Investing in the RB position used to be unnecessary, but the league and the position is changing. In today's NFL, "running backs" are really offensive weapons, some even serving as better pass catchers than ball carriers. Six of the NFL's 2018 leaders in yards from scrimmage are running backs: Saquon Barkley (1st), Ezekiel Elliott (2nd), Christian McCaffrey (3rd), Todd Gurley (4th), Alvin Kamara (7th), and James Conner (10th). 

Barkley, Elliott, McCaffrey, and Gurley were all top 10 overall picks and all tallied over 1,800 yards from scrimmage for their respective teams. Kamara and Conner were both third round picks and they recorded over 1,400 scrimmage yards in 2018. The 11th player on the yards from scrimmage list this season was Joe Mixon, a second round pick. 

And I haven't even mentioned former first round pick Melvin Gordon (who missed time due to injury), second round pick Dalvin Cook (who also missed time due to injury), and third round pick David Johnson, who accumulated 2,118 scrimmage yards in 2016. 

Then, there are also the "risky, but talented and available" backs in Le'Veon Bell and Kareem Hunt. Bell sat out in 2018 seeking a guaranteed contract. Hunt was placed on the commissioner's exempt list and suspended on November 30th, 2018 after TMZ released a video of an altercation with Hunt and a woman in a hotel. 

Bell, a 2013 second rounder, recorded 2,215 scrimmage yards in 2014 and went over 1,800 in 2016 and 2017. Bell has been linked to the Eagles in rumors and is an unrestricted free-agent. Hunt, 23, was a third round pick in 2017 and had 1,782 scrimmage yards as a rookie and 1,202 in 11 games this season. 

The Eagles haven't had a type of offensive weapon like any of the aforementioned players since McCoy. 

Zach Ertz (1,163 receiving yards), Alshon Jeffery (843 receiving yards), and Nelson Agholor (736 receiving yards, 32 rushing yards) were the Eagles' top three scrimmage yards leaders in 2018—all pass catchers. Smallwood was the team leader in scrimmage yards among running backs with just 594. 

In the Super Bowl winning 2017 season, LeGarrette Blount led the running back committee in scrimmage yards with 816, but only 50 through the air. And he was not re-signed after the season. 

Jay Ajayi, who the Eagles acquired midway through the 2017 season for a fourth round pick, finally provided the Eagles with a glimpse of this type of player. Ajayi had 499 scrimmage yards in seven regular season games, putting him on pace for over 1,000 scrimmage yards. Ajayi, 25, played just four games this season before tearing his ACL and the former fifth round pick is now set to become an unrestricted free-agent. 

"Jay getting hurt early, (undrafted free-agent) Corey (Clement) getting hurt, that was a position that was affected," Howie Roseman said about the running backs on Tuesday. "Again, we want to strengthen the roster. We want to make sure we're improving the roster and not standing pat."

Doug Pederson echoed Roseman when asked about the team's uninspiring running back situation, blaming injuries. 

"Offensive line has a part in that (issue), tight ends, obviously injury plays a part in that," Pederson explained. "As Howie said, we'll take a look at that as we evaluate this Spring."

The man who helped provide the bulk of those all-purpose yards for the Eagles in 2014, 2015, and 2016 was Darren Sproles, who was acquired from the Saints for a fifth round pick in 2014. Sproles, however, is now 35 years old and has played just 11 out of 37 games, including the playoffs, over the past two seasons. 

"Everyone knows how we feel about Darren Sproles, again as a person and a player," Roseman said. "Not many guys who have higher character, better leadership ability, and a chance to go to the HOF."

Sproles was brought back in 2018 on a one-year contract for just $1.2 million and he's reportedly considering another return in 2019. The Eagles would be smart to bring back Sproles—who came up huge for the Birds down the stretch this season—for basically as long as he wants on a year-by-year basis for that incredibly cheap price of around $1 million. They need all of the explosive offensive weapons they can get, especially cheap ones. It's basically risk free for Philadelphia. 

But that should have no affect on how they view their running back situation, or lack thereof, going forward. 

It's 2019. The Eagles need a multifaceted explosive, play-making back who can break plays, change a game, and take some of the pressure off of Carson Wentz. Admittedly, that player isn't easy to find, but you have to start somewhere.